As you’ve no doubt heard from an old sage, speed limits are just that; a limit, not a target, but apart from very few locations, there’s nothing about minimum speed limits (marked with a circular blue sign with white numerals).
Many drivers believe that ‘slow is safe’ regardless of conditions or traffic, but recent figures released by the Department for Transport show that road crash casualties due to excessively low speeds increased by almost a third in 2017; 175 injuries and two fatalities.
The AA warns us that “driving like a snail can be every bit as dangerous as driving too fast”, they also go on to say that perhaps part of the problem may be the record number of elderly drivers on the roads – almost five million over 70, with more than 100,000 over 90.
The effect of driving slowly
This isn’t the driving style associated with hypermiling, being courteous or even safe motoring; driving excessively slowly brings further hazards – bringing confusion to other drivers, the possibility of forcing erratic manoeuvres through frustration, slowing traffic up, even cases of road rage.
A poll by Hyundai revealed that someone driving too slowly is the 7th most common reason why drivers swear when behind the wheel and that nearly 1/3 of all respondents have had a near miss caused by someone driving too slowly. 60% of motorists say their stress levels raise when stuck behind someone driving too slowly, and about half of them are tempted to undertake.
It’s deemed that serious that the Police could charge you with Inconsiderate or Careless Driving, the maximum penalty for which is a £5,000 fine and 9 penalty points. As further evidence as to just how dimly it’s looked upon, driving too slowly is the tenth most common reason for a driving test failure, with examiners viewing it as a lack of confidence or skill.
While there are some exceptions, a national minimum speed limit has never been introduced, although some motoring organisations believe that a minimum limit could have a beneficial effect on traffic flow, although in reality that seems unlikely – where there is a minimum limit in place currently, it’s low, usually 20 mph.
What can you do?
Driving slowly can be viewed as a great stress-buster, it also helps to save your licence from any speeding problems, and with no safety judgement or discretion from ‘safety’ cameras, it’s no surprise that some motorists are taking that option. It’s when they take it too far that it becomes a problem.
As with most incidents of poor driving, the best advice is to distance yourself from it, and while the option to slow down further may not be that viable, you should look to ways of clearing it, perhaps by taking another route (where possible). It’s been shown that middle-lane hoggers on motorways are a particular threat or nuisance.
There is no easy solution to the problem – introducing a minimum limit could further exacerbate traffic problems, and of course, policing it would be difficult, that’s before we get to dwindling police numbers.
It’s worth noting that some safety campaigners believe that “speed limits are rarely safe to travel at”, and their advice is to “slow right down” in all conditions, on all roads. Perhaps it’s these campaigners that are part of the problem?
While understanding that excessive speed is indeed dangerous, there is an argument for appropriate speed, and that argument should work both ways; lower speeds don’t necessarily mean appropriate speed. With that said, there is a disproportionate divide between the two when it comes to statistics – 175 injuries attributable to excessively low speed, opposed to nearly 20,000 injuries for speeding.
Defining ‘low speed’ is difficult, what constitutes a risk to some motorists, may be acceptable to others, the definition of Inconsiderate Driving is that the accused must have driven in a manner that inconvenienced others, whether that results in an accident or not. What this means, in reality, is that any driver accused of such behaviour should be able to give a reasonable account as to why they were driving in such a manner.
It’s clear that this is a traffic violation that causes frustration and anger, but perhaps driver education is better than punishment; with speed awareness courses being deemed appropriate for motorists caught just over the limit, why not introduce a course for dangerously low-speed driving?
Have you been stuck behind someone driving too slowly? Do you feel that there is an argument for minimum speed limits with enforcement cameras? Or is this just another tax? Let us know in the comments.